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Updated Oct 18, 2023, 7:48am EDT
Middle East
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Biden arrives in Israel as anger grows over Gaza hospital blast

Palestinians take part in a protest in support of the people in Gaza
Palestinian protesters in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta
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U.S. President Joe Biden arrived in Israel to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a blast at a hospital in Gaza killed a huge number of Palestinians and upended hopes of a diplomatic breakthrough.

Hamas blamed the explosion on an airstrike by Israel, while Israel said a misfire by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another militant group in Gaza, was responsible. Biden sided with Israel’s account, saying the blast “appears” to have been caused “by the other team.”

National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson confirmed Wednesday that U.S. intelligence currently suggests that Israel was not responsible for the explosion.

The Tuesday explosion prompted Jordan to cancel a planned summit between Biden and several Arab leaders in Amman — including Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas — in the second part of his itinerary.

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The Gaza explosion has had ramifications across the Middle East. In Jordan, protesters swarmed the Israeli embassy in Amman after news of the incident spread. A royal adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, which has been looking into a normalization pact with Israel, told The Wall Street Journal those plans had fallen apart.

Arab outrage at the U.S. backing of Israeli claims about the blast could bring new tensions for Biden during his trip. He will now only meet face-to-face with the Israeli government. Marwan Muasher, a former Jordanian foreign minister, told the Middle East Eye that anger at the U.S. and Israel had reached “boiling level.” Siding entirely with Israel was “unprecedented,” Muasher argued, adding that “there is anger everywhere now in the Arab world. And a sense that the US is totally insensitive to a Palestinian population under siege.”

Biden’s visit to Israel is a show of genuine support for a close ally, Alon Pinkas wrote for Israeli outlet Haaretz. The trip, though, is indicative of a paradigm shift, he notes. The U.S. has clearly signaled that it will supply troops to Israel if required, but Biden coming in person suggests “a certain loss of confidence" in Israeli authorities, Pinkas wrote. “It feels that, simultaneous with an outpouring of support, [the U.S.] needs to check Israel.”

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